Something About the AirBnB Ransacked Apartment Horror Story Isn’t Right

AirBnB recently raised a $112 million venture capital round that put it in the billion dollar valuation club. If the story of one traveler’s experience with the site is proven to be accurate, they may need to set aside some of that money for an insurance policy to maintain user trust in the site. While more protections on both the renter and apartment owner side will need to be put in place, there are a few parts of this particular story that draw us back to “proven to be accurate.”

About  a month ago, someone identified only as EJ posted about a truly awful rental experience with AirBnB, the marketplace for temporary room and apartment rentals. The story was recently revived through a series of posts on blogs and social sites like Quora.

“Three difficult days ago, I returned home from an exhausting week of business travel to an apartment that I no longer recognized. To an apartment that had been ransacked,” EJ writes.

“They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals… my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied – using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests’ use. They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor. They found my coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond and used the discount, along with my Mastercard, to shop online.  Despite the heat wave, they used my fireplace and multiple Duraflame logs to reduce mounds of stuff (my stuff??) to ash – including, I believe, the missing set of guest sheets I left carefully folded for their comfort. Yet they were stupid and careless enough to leave the flue closed; dirty gray ash now covered every surface inside.

They did weird stuff too: moving things around in a spooky, psychotic kind of way – creepy little things that I am still discovering as I dig through the wreckage – like cutting the tags off my pillows, and hanging a painting of Paris on the wall that I had never hung before… probably while wearing my now-missing Ugg boots and Roots cap.

All the while, Dj Pattrson was sending me friendly emails, thanking me for being such a great host, for respecting his/her privacy…. telling me how much he/she was enjoying my beautiful apartment bathed in sunlight, how much he/she particularly loved the “little loft area” upstairs… with an “lol” closing one sentence, just for good measure. It makes me sick to my stomach to think now of these emails.” {Around the World and Back}

That absolutely sounds like the renter from hell, and AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky offered this response:

“Hey everyone – we were shocked when we heard about this unsettling event. We have been working closely with the authorities, and we want to reassure our community that, with the help of our security infrastructure, we were able to assist the police in their investigation, and we understand from authorities that a suspect is now in custody.” – Brian Chesky on Hacker News

Here’s the thing: as AirBnB expands, they’ll have to deal not only with hotels who don’t like to see their business threatened, but some of the issues hotels face as well. Issues like who pays for cleaning if an apartment is left dirty? Even in the case of normal rentals, some hosts ask for deposits against cleaning or damage in addition to the rental fee. AirBnB doesn’t have any mechanism in place to handle this, so in the worst case renters can end up being out a hundred or so dollars while the owner hangs on to the money a bit longer than they should (which happened to this writer). For the apartment owner, the worst case probably sounds like EJ’s story above. Hotels normally handle this by requiring a credit card on file for incidentals, and this is something AirBnB could look into. While there have been very few “worst case” situations that we’ve heard about, there are probably even more minor grievances that never surface: the temporary renter who lost the keys, or the apartment owner who shows pictures of one apartment and rents another, for example. All growing pains that the hotel industry has figured out, that AirBnB will have to address as well.

Yet something about EJ’s story seems off. It’s not that we doubt the events described happened: the CEO of the company probably wouldn’t have commented if the person hadn’t actually rented from them and there weren’t supporting evidence of the events described. But there’s something about these events that seems so personal that we can’t help but wonder if this was really a random crazy person or someone the author knew more personally. Even if it’s the latter, it doesn’t change the fact that AirBnB is going to have to put better abuse policies in place and invest in some level of owner and renter security (at least financially). It would make a difference in the minds of many if this were the result of someone with a personal vendetta rather than a complete stranger though. While we can see the theft of the passport, cash and jewelry as something a random criminal might do, burning sheets, wearing the apartment owner’s clothes and hanging pictures doesn’t seem to fit with someone whose primary motivation was to easily rob an unsuspecting person.

Trashed desk photo by Lara604

Update: And now, like any properly developing controversy, there’s an accompanying video from Taiwanese web animators Next Media Animation.


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